Cassie and the Lights

Alex Howarth
3heartscanvas and Patch of Blue
Southwark Playhouse Borough

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Cassie and the Lights: Cassie, Tin and Kit Credit: Claire Bilyard

Alex Howarth's Cassie and the Lights explores one enormous question: can kids ever become parents? It’s one that is often given to the courts and councils to address for thousands of vulnerable young people every single year in this country.

The play is based on real-life events and interviews with children in care. We don't know if Cassie (Alex Brain), Tin (Helen Chong) and Kit (Emily McGlynn) are a real family, with real problems, going through the turmoil of abandonment from their mother—but that doesn't really matter. It's sad enough to think the words they're saying all belong to someone. They are a child’s normal somewhere.

The girls' tough and all too common journey starts when their mother disappears suddenly without as much as a hug or a kiss, leaving them to fend for themselves in a cold, dirty and pretty empty council flat somewhere in Yorkshire. The despair Cassie feels as the eldest is heart-breaking. She is an ambitious teenager with normal teenage dreams and talent, but also a deep sense of responsibility towards her two younger siblings. Brain is such a young actress, and yet the raw emotional depth she brings to her role is both moving and believable.

Should Cassie allow her sisters to be adopted by their foster parents and given the chance of a more stable, comfortable life? As a 16-year-old, the answer to that is out of her hands, but it allows Howarth to examine the theme of family and what really makes up the threads of one. Cassie feels family is blood, but not everyone agrees. Ultimately, in the play and in life, the courts decide for these children abandoned by their parents.

Tin and Kit are both energetic, loveable and really close siblings, and that comes across in Chong and McGlynn's performances. They say ignorance is bliss—and in this case, ignorance to the reality of their sad, screwed-up life is sweet, funny and heart-warming. The innocence of youth is subtly shown by their love of the simple things in a young person’s world like frogs, ceiling stars, party rings and group hugs. Among the fun and frolics Cassie creates to take the girls' minds off the situation is resilience and a sense that they are no fools.

This three-hander is a tender, short play that explores a huge and super-sensitive subject in just over an hour with understanding and respect. It celebrates the lives of these warriors living amongst us who are battling to create some sort of family for the next generation against all the odds. For that, I applaud this play, its question and how these young actors have brought the words and experience of the unheard to life.

Reviewer: Thomas Magill

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